When Singapore runner Tan Kim Lai had initially signed up for his first 42.195km Full Marathon, he didn’t even know whether he could even complete the distance.
That had been at the Penang Bridge International Marathon in 2007.
Entered his maiden marathon purely for fun
Said Tan, 56, “I entered my first race as a fun thing. I did not know if I could even complete the full 42.195km but then again, if I didn’t try, I would never know. Every time people are so worried about not completing a race then they don’t dare to give it a go. But if you don’t try, you would never know how far you can actually go.”
In the end though, Tan had completed that race, in a timing of about 6 hours and 40 minutes.
Tan admitted that he had initially been persuaded by his friend to join the Penang Bridge Marathon, and, keen to take on the challenge, he had agreed. Prior to this, he had completed some 10km and 21.1km races. Said Tan, “My first 10km race was the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore (SCMS) in 2004 and I upgraded to the Half Marathon a year later.”
Competed in marathons and ultras from all over the region
Eight years later, Tan has now completed 102 marathons – which he defines as any race that is 42.195km or longer in distance. So ultras are included in Tan’s definition of marathons.He has run marathons and ultras all over the region, including the Sundown Marathon, Craze Ultra and Twilight Ultra Challenge events in Singapore, the Taiping Marathon, River Jungle Marathon and Penang Ultra in Malaysia, as well as The TransLantau 100km and the Vibram® Hong Kong 100km race in Hong Kong.
Tan said that his introduction to running 100km ultra events is quite interesting.
He explained, “I had originally wanted to sign up for the Standard Chartered Marathon Hong Kong, so I bought my air ticket before the date was released. But when the race date came out, it had been different to the date of my air tickets.”
Added Tan, “But after doing some Googling, I found out there was a Vibram® 100km race taking place during the time period I would be in Hong Kong. So even though I had never run 100km before then, I still signed up. Die die must go because I booked my air ticket already!”
Tan admitted though, that he was prepared to DNF (Did Not Finish) the race. He added, “But wah, not bad, I had been able to complete the race in the cut-off timing. After that I became confident in running 100km already.”
TransLantau 100km event was his most challenging race to date
Out of all the races that the runner has done, the Hong Kong TransLantau 100km event – which he took part in, in March this year – remains one of the most challenging races that he has run in. Explained Tan, “Runners start at 11pm at night and have 32 hours to complete 100km of challenging Hong Kong trails. And it becomes even more difficult because due to the nature of the race, you’re likely to feel sleepy halfway and will have to fight against that.”He added, “Also there will be times during that race when you won’t know if you’re running in the correct direction. What I did though, was to see if there was any lighting or signage in front. If there is, you’re running in the correct trails, but if not, then you are lost. It doesn’t help that you’ll be almost certainly alone in the trails at some stage of the race – unless you are running in a group.”
River Jungle Marathon in Selangor was one of his most memorable runs
The River Jungle Marathon in Selangor, Malaysia, which Tan ran in 2011, proved to be one of his most memorable races. Said Tan, “The scenery was very beautiful and peaceful – as there’s not many vehicles along the route. Also, there was a lot of food to eat along the way – including durians, rambutan and longans at the water points. The weather was also cooler than Singapore and that made it very nice to run.”
And Tan enjoyed this race so much that he admitted that he’s gone back there three more times to run and soak up the atmosphere there.
Has travelled to Nepal for a three-day stage race
The furthest that Tan has travelled for a race, is to Nepal – to take part in the Nepal Ultra, which is a three-day 60km stage race.Said Tan, “Nepal is mostly mountain ranges and the weather is very cooling. The scenery is quite different to Singapore. And I was going there mainly to enjoy myself and take photos rather than the actual running.”
In the end, Tan took about 16 hours to complete the 60km, which works out to be about seven to eight hours to run 20km on each of the three days of the race.
Treasures the SCMS in Singapore
Despite travelling and taking part in so many races abroad, Tan still treasures his home ground race – the SCMS, though. He said, “I always support SCMS because it is our home-ground race. Every year I have taken part in it, since I had started running.”
Continued Tan, “Our other local race, Sundown Marathon, is also special to me as it is a night race. The first Sundown Marathon was the best one though – we started the race at Changi Village ran through the park connectors at Siglap, Bedok and Loyang. Though the route is in the city now, I still support the Sundown Marathon.”
Ran three races one week apart
What has been some of Tan’s craziest exploits in the name of running?According to Tan, this had been when he ran three endurance races in September 2013 – all one week apart. The races had been the River Jungle Marathon (42km), the Sundown Ultra Marathon (100km) and the Craze Ultra (101km).
Added Tan, “I didn’t have any pain or suffered from any leg problems after these three races. But maybe it was because I was not running so fast or because my body was already used to it. Earlier on, I felt leg pains especially after my first 21km, but now even after 42km, I still feel good.”
As well, another of Tan’s crazy running adventures was when he ran the Putrajaya Night Marathon (42km) in Malaysia, travelled back to Singapore and then competed in the Adidas King of the Road race, which took place at about 5am the very next morning!
This had meant that he hardly got any sleep at all that night. But in the name of running, Tan enjoyed it and said that it was quite an ‘adventure.’
Has not sustained any major injuries in his running journey
But despite his numerous running exploits, Tan added that he has never sustained any serious injuries from running.
He said, “So far, so good. I have had some minor problems though, such as leg pains after going for a massage after the Pattaya Marathon in Thailand but that cleared after one week. I think I don’t get many injuries because of my running pattern – a lot of my friends say that I am walking and not running during my races. I think that injuries mainly happen to fast runners.”Continued Tan, “But at the beginning of this year though, I have started to feel cramps on my legs before a race, and it takes about half an hour of running to warm up my legs and get settled in my normal pace. Last time I didn’t have any problems. So I have been running more slowly lately.”
His family and running
What does his family think of his running?
Said Tan, “My family knows that I am running but they seldom come and support me. At first when I ventured into overseas running, my wife grumbled but she’s okay about it now and she accepts my choices.”
This is despite the fact that Tan uses most of his leave for running. He said, “One year though, I went for The North Face Hong Kong and brought my family there for a one-week holiday. This had been one of the few times I had brought them along with me for a running trip.”
Recent 102nd milestone marathon
Tan’s recent milestone 102nd marathon had been at the recent 2015 edition of the SCMS. An earlier SCMS event had marked the beginning of his running journey, so it was only fitting that another milestone would be created in the SCMS race.Added Tan, “My fans told me to come back in 6 hours 30 minutes too, so that they could congratulate me and take photos with me after my run. But that day, the weather was super hot so I ended up coming back at 6 hours 40 minutes. Some of my fans were waiting for me at the tent. And I was quite pressured throughout the race – I had tried to run fast but my legs wouldn’t move. I also didn’t take so many photos that day – usually when I run, I tend to take lots of pictures.”
Added Tan, “But generally when I run, I am happy to simply meet the cut-off time. My aim is to enjoy myself and take photos during runs, and not to break a Personal Best timing.”
Tan’s Advice for marathon runners
What does Tan have to share, with endurance runners?
He said, “For marathon running, you need proper shoes as it has to last for at least 42km of running. If the shoe is not good enough, you will get blisters – I learnt the hard way with plenty of blisters and black toenails. But running 100km is no problem for me now.”Added Tan, “Getting the right pair of shoes is a trial-and-error thing though as it may not be easy to get a pair of shoes that fits you precisely, the very first time. Also for endurance events in hot weather, you should change your socks to prevent blisters too.”
At the same time, he also warns runners that trail races is a completely different ball game to road ones. Said Tan, “You cannot compare road and trail running. You may clock good timings for road races but when it comes to trail, your speed will invariably be slower, so you should expect that.”